My Journey at JPL ~ Episode 4: The Federal Government Shutdown

Happy New Year, Ladies!

Exactly a month ago, the first week in December at JPL, I recall sitting at my desk and staring out the window.




It was subtle, the shift I felt. My intuition said “Pay attention.” And just as quickly as it came, the feeling was gone. However, like any communication from the Divine, the memory remained.

Going into the last vacation period of 2018, I felt great! A week before my last work day of the year, I spent an afternoon enjoying the annual Holiday party with my section and another JPL section at a pool hall in Pasadena, Barney’s Beanery.




I spent a few hours meeting some folks from a different section that I had seen before on Lab, but not spoken to. JPL, affectionately known as “Lab” or “Campus” feels just like that. It reminds me of a college campus, similar to Texas A&M in College Station where I graduated so many years ago in the mid 90s.




I also received two gifts, including this luggage tag and celebratory SMAP pin.


190103-MJJ_4-LuggageTag                          190103-MJJ_4-SMAP


Thursday December 20 began just like any other day. I woke up for work excited to head in because I knew I’d be leaving a couple hours early for LAX and my non-stop flight to Atlanta. That morning I received two emails of imminent importance. The first one came from the NASA director. And the second one came from the JPL director. Both emails spoke of the possibility of the federal government shutdown and what would happen. The result from NASA was clear. Any non-essential personnel would be furloughed on December 26. JPL is operated by NASA, yet it is managed by Caltech, a story to be explained another time. The main conclusion of the JPL email is that a contingency plan would go into effect, resulting in no immediate furloughs.

One of the biggest things I love about working at JPL is being surrounded by smart people and thinkers. Sometimes thinking has gotten me into trouble, but that’s never been the case here. Here, my thinking has a home and is an important contribution to the tasks at hand.

I recall an encounter I had in the elevator of my building my first week on the job. In a discussion I overheard, Guy A is talking to Guy B, his co-worker or friend about missing his retirement party to help his daughter get settled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Number 1 ranked college in the country. When Guy B asked how much the tuition is there nowadays, Guy A said he does not know because she got a full scholarship for the masters program. The world of rocket scientists, I thought, discussing a full scholarship to the best ranked school in the country like it was as easy as eating a piece of cake. Guy A didn’t say it with arrogance, more with the pride of being a proud papa. That warmed my heart, reminding me of my own dad who likes to brag to his friends about his daughter.

Another thing I love about working at JPL is that this job has minimal stress. At least, until I saw the email on December 20. Now, the uncertainty creates immediate stress. I mean, who knows how long the contingency plan would last before we are sent home?

A couple decades ago, I learned this most valuable lesson: It’s not a good idea to put all of your eggs in one basket… especially when you’re not the one holding the basket.

Always have a Plan B. As soon as I saw the emails on December 20, I made a phone call, putting my Plan B into action. And because of this, I felt no stress as I headed to LAX airport; no stress as my flight departed for Atlanta; no stress as the budget deadline expired over the holidays with no funding in place; no stress as the federal government shutdown started; no stress as the shutdown continued heading for 2019 with no end in sight.

You decide what your Plan B will be for you. It’s different for everyone. But, have one nonetheless.

Ladies, I am wishing you and your family a happy New Year! Here is to making 2019 the best year ever!


All the Best,



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